Two compositions, one per disc, by Ullmann — 'Mentzers stern' (2014-2015) and 'solo II' (1992) — performed by bassoonist Dafne Vicente-Sandoval.
Two extraordinary compositions, I should say, brilliantly played. The Muntzer of the title of the first piece is Thomas Muntzer (c. 1489 - 1525) a German theological reformer known for both his fervent opposition to the papacy and to Martin Luther, who he thought over-compromised with feudal authorities. The work was recorded in a medieval church in Germany. Apart from the bassoon, the score calls for Muntzer's words (from a text, 'von dem getichten glawben/on the imaginary faith') to be read over a speaker that's placed at some distance from the instrument, resulting in blurred, ghostly words. The bassoon's lines, as is often the case in Ullmann's music, are long-held, somber, often deep and are partially based on a hymn, 'Gott heil'ger Schöpfer aller Stern'. Vicente-Sandoval is an amazing player and those who have only heard her in situations where she deconstructs her instrument may be surprised at how clearly (and beautifully) she plays here — total control. The recording allows for the infiltration of external sounds, though the whole ambience is vague enough that, as Hans-Peter Schulz points out in his excellent liner notes, the listener cannot discern whether a given soft sound derives from "a breath or blow sound, or does it come from outside in the form of wind, or of some road surface wet from rain that a car is passing over?" The overall effect is one of quiet immensity, of a vast, diaphanous creature. I first thought of whale song, given the searching, sometimes plaintive sounds of the bassoon. Later I thought, more than whales — dinosaurs. This might be what one heard from brachiosauruses in distant swamps. A unique, immersive and breathtaking experience.
The enclosed booklet prints the score (or part of the score) for 'solo II', one of a series of pieces written by Ullmann for solo instruments, and it's quite fascinating in and of itself, a kind of rootlike or rhizomically meandering pathway with multiple annotations, some time-oriented, many far more obscure. There's more of an audible acoustic ambience here, through which the bassoon weaves, its lines mournful and searching, fluctuating between deep, pure tones and breath sounds. That root image is apropos, as there's a darkness about the music, a probing tentativeness amidst skittering sounds, bangs and pale wisps. Vicente-Sandoval charts her way through the system with patience; there's somehow the sense of a great deal of time passing. The environs are similar but always changing, her calls echoing back and allowing for orientation. At the very end, she emerges to hear the faint bells of a church. As with 'Muntzers stern', the experience for the listener is unlike anything one is likely to have heard, in many ways. Endlessly engrossing, layer upon layer of sound-world revealed, both throughout a given listen and upon repeated listening.
Very highly recommended and a great place to begin with Ullmann for a newcomer.
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